Rhetorimania or Motivomania – I’m not sure how I’m going to go with this, but I’m creating a new word to describe the undue obsession some people have with looking for inspiring words, rhetoric or ‘motivational’ speeches and literature to ‘move’ them to do something.
Many of my clients say that one of the things I do is to work with their leadership and their talents in a special way to help them become better leaders and better people. And frequently, part of that is developing them as leaders who authentically and enthusiastically communicate a persuasive and inspiring message.
Now, this may sound crazy, but as a communications expert, as a student of language, as a lover of literature, as an enthusiast for expression, as an ardent admirer of the art of the address, I have grown increasingly frustrated and dismissive over the years with people who are all about words.
Some people think that through their abundant loquacity they demonstrate that they are the most inspiring, the smartest person in the room. They dominate discussions and talk a great talk, but when it comes down to it, they are empty shells.
Here lies the current frustration of Americans with President Barack Obama: he loves to deliver a ‘perfect’ speech, but catch him in interview, work with him in discussion, observe his ability to negotiate with others and the world increasingly sees empty rhetoric. His new way of “making Washington work” ended up being, “My way or the highway”, because “I am the one elected by all the folks.” His “red lines” were coloured in washable ink.
Don’t get me wrong. It is important to speak well. A few well chosen words can have great impact. Negotiation, ideation and persuasion all depend on language. Wars can be started or stopped through language. But our language does not define us.
I had a boss once who gave very inspiring, well crafted speeches to hundreds of staff at a time. They were great. Until you got close and saw that he wouldn’t fulfil his word, wouldn’t enact a promise and wouldn’t pursue the principles he espoused. So people ended up texting all the way through his speeches and counting how many times he used the word ‘acknowledge’.
When working with my clients, I try to ensure that they have integrity – that their words match their actions and vice versa. If you promise it, do everything you can to make it happen. Or else, apologise for your overreach. If you espouse it, let it reflect what you truly believe, not what you’d like to think you believe or what you think will sound good.
I counsel my clients that a handful of words, simply and powerfully put, are worth all the eloquence and long speeches. As Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
And I also advise my clients: Actions Speak Louder than Words. Teddy Roosevelt famously wrote that he believed it best to “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.” Your words should be intimately linked with the weight of your actions.
Equally, it is more important to listen, than to speak. Close your mouth. Open your ears. Ask questions. Listen deeply. Then respond and act.
But there is also this other phenomenon – not of the speaker, but of the listener. These are the people who are constantly looking for some new words to inspire them, some new idea that will fabulously explain everything to them, some new ‘motivation’ and ‘inspiration’ that will lift their lives out of the humdrum and elevate them to glory and success.
“Oh, he was so fabulous! I’ve never heard anything like it.”
“Oh, she finally showed me how I can be whole.”
“Wow! He really rocked that stage. It was the best!”
“I just love how he pauses in just the right place. I wish our leaders would do that.”
I’ve got “news” for you: there is nothing new under the sun. Instead of waiting for the right words and grand eloquence, instead of waiting for the right ‘knowledge’ to lead you, instead of waiting for the charismatic moment to inspire you, you need to act on what you already know. And you need to act now.
There’s a famous story that a dad asked his two boys to help him with a task and the one boy said, “Yes” and the other boy said “No.” The boy who said ‘Yes’ then changed his mind and took off to goof off. The boy who initially said ‘No’, then relented and came and helped his dad. Which boy was actually doing what his dad needed? Which one would you trust? The one who said the right thing, or the one who did it?
Find people who will work alongside you. Work with those who will act with wisdom. Determine your best laid plans. Communicate with passion. But act.
Shakespeare put the words in Hamlet’s mouth: Hamlet’s conscience, his overaptness to continually consider all of the complications, prohibits his native action. Hamlet talks and talks and talks a good game, but in the end,
“Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,And thus the native hue of resolutionIs sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,And enterprises of great pith and momentWith this regard their currents turn awry,And lose the name of action.” – Hamlet, Act III, Scene i
It is only when Hamlet finally acts, for better or for worse, that he finds redemption and justice.
Don’t be overcome by rhetorimania. Don’t waste your time forever chasing after the perfect words. Think, speak and act in a way that lives out the true meaning of your creed and does not lose the name, “Action”.
© 2014 Peter J. McLean